Low and Slow From Moloka’i to Waimea On Mokulele (Trip Report)

Mokulele, Trip Reports

I’ve been back from Hawai’i for well over a month, but I’m only now getting around to writing up the rest of the trip. There’s just been too much else to talk about. When we left off, I was enjoying myself on Moloka’i. Thanks to a whole complex set of logistical issues, my wife left for the Big Island a day before I did. After one last night alone, it was time for me to make the trip as well.

There’s no way to get from Moloka’i to the Big Island nonstop, so I had to choose my adventure. In the end, I settled on something pretty remarkable. There is subsidized Essential Air Service into Waimea on the Big Island flown twice daily by Mokulele Grand Caravans from Kahului on Maui. It turns out this airport was only 30 minutes north of where we were staying near the Mauna Lani. That house was also 30 minutes away from Kona in the other direction. Let’s forget about the absurdity that our government funds service to an airport that’s an hour away from a major airport with a ton of service for a second. I was just excited to fly into a rarely-visited airport after a stop at Kahului.

When my wife had checked in the day before, the agents didn’t even show up until 45 minutes before departure, and that’s for a flight with security. With that in mind, I dropped my trusty steed Clifford off in the field/parking lot as directed by the rental company and walked into the terminal about half an hour before departure.

The agent at the tiny ticket counter checked me in and told me to have a seat. He said everyone was there so we’d probably leave early.

Sure enough, someone came out shortly and told everyone going to Kahului to come on up and get ready to board from gate 1.

I walked up and was told to sit in row 1 (either side). Out on the ramp, I found this lovely sight.

August 2, 2017
Mokulele 210 Lv Molokai 1125a Arr Kahului 1155a
Molokai (MKK): Gate 1, Runway 5, Depart 18m Early
Kahului (OGG): Gate 1, Runway 5, Arrive 22m Early
N852MA, Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, Standard Mokulele colors, 66% Full
Seat 1B, Coach
Flight Time 20m

I climbed up the rear stairs and asked the Captain which side would have the best view. He said the right would be best that day, so I took that seat. I didn’t realize there was no way to put a carry-on bag in any compartment on that airplane, so he said to just put everything at my feet since I had no underseat storage in the first row. I did just that.

Soon we were boarded and we headed out to the runway. We were in the air shortly, bouncing through the thermals on our way north.

The terrain rises as you get further north, so it didn’t feel like we were climbing all that much until we passed the pali. All of a sudden the ground dropped away and I was staring down at Kalaupapa.

It was stunning as we turned to the right and began to parallel the coast.

I learned that the bulk of the people onboard were members a Danish family making the most of maternity leave. The baby next to me was silent, clearly (or not) captivated by the scenery as well. Meanwhile, I was glued to the large windows as we passed Kauhako crater (the reason the Kalaupapa peninsula exists) below.

Past Kalaupapa, I was in uncharted territory. There are no roads paralleling the northern side of the island, so this was the only way I’d see the green valleys with plunging waterfalls. It was gorgeous.

Eventually, we passed Halawa Valley in the northeast corner at the end of the road along the east side, and the place where my wife and I sat on the beach a couple days earlier.

This was the last thing we passed before our short hop across the Pailolo Channel.

In just a couple of minutes we were abeam the northwest coast of Maui. There is a narrow road here, but it’s one of the least-populated and rarely-explored parts of the island.

I’ve driven through, but I’d never seen it from this angle before. We began our descent and came down over the relative metropolis that is Wailuku.

The pilots lined up to land on the sub-5000 foot runway 5 which is used exclusively by commuters as far as I can tell. After a short taxi back, we were at the commuter terminal just a few minutes after we were supposed to have departed Moloka’i.

I had hoped to stay on the airplane since it was the same one taking me on to Waimea, but they said I had to get off because of fueling and the fact that they might change my row. So I did.

The Kahului commuter terminal is tiny, and coincidentally it’s where I departed the only time I’d been to the Big Island before… way back in 1991 on an Aloha Island Air DHC-6. It’s really just a ticket counter with a few chairs, all open to the air. I took a seat for a long layover since we had arrived well ahead of schedule, but everyone must have shown up early again and boarding began before I expected.

August 2, 2017
Mokulele 210 Lv Kahului 1215p Arr Waimea 105p
Kahului (OGG): Gate 1, Runway 5, Depart 9m Early
Waimea (MUE): Gate 1, Runway 4, Arrive 17m Early
N852MA, Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, Standard Mokulele colors, 100% Full
Seat 4A, Coach
Flight Time 35m

This time I was given row 4. I had asked which side to sit on before, and the pilots didn’t know which way we were going at the time. When I boarded, they said to sit on the right but the other person in row 4 had already taken it. Oh well, at least the windows were so massive I wouldn’t miss anything.

We took off on runway 5, and I was able to snap one of the best aviation photos I’ve ever taken.

That United 737 had just landed on runway 2 and was taxiing back when we flew over.

We hung a right and started skirting along the coast with the imposing Haleakala volcano sitting just off our right wing. We stayed far enough away to avoid the clouds that always cluster around the mountain, but on this flight, they were relatively scarce.

I could see green flat lands as we chugged along the north coast.

With the Hana Airport in sight, we turned right and prepared for the ‘Alenuihaha Channel crossing. We had to climb up to about 10,000 feet for that, because, I believe, there are rules about being able to glide to the nearest land mass. Maybe someone with better knowledge can clarify that. I broke out the very small inflight magazine and skimmed it during the short crossing.

Within a few minutes, the northern tip of the Big Island was outside the window on the right.

This was confusing. I had expected we’d come in along the leeward (Kona) coast of the Big Island (which would put the land mass on the left) but we didn’t.

The clouds were sparse enough on the windward side that we were able to fly past the Kohala Forest Reserve.

We ducked the clouds and turned in toward Waimea, which sits between two volcanoes: Kohala to the north and Mauna Kea to the south. As you can imagine, this valley gets windy.

The pilots had told me as much before, but this was apparently a “calm” day with winds only about 25 kts and gusting from there. It was still obviously a bouncy ride as the ground transformed from a lush green color to a volcanic gray the further west we went.

It’s hard to put into words how dramatic the change was.

After we landed, the person in row 5 stepped off and one of the pilots said “did you like the view today?” He was apparently a regular, and it sounded like the approach from the east doesn’t happen all that often. The passenger nodded. I smiled as I made my way toward the terminal.

I went off to meet the whole family for a week of exploration. I’ll try to get my return home on United up on the blog in the next couple weeks.

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13 comments on “Low and Slow From Moloka’i to Waimea On Mokulele (Trip Report)

  1. Thank you for this! What was the price for the ticket. Is it possible the same airline from OGg or LIh to Molokai?

  2. So jealous of this flight. Looks like you got helicopter tour style views on an EAS flight, and with a bit of fun light chop as well.

    I believe it was a SeaPort Cessna Grand Caravan that I took an EAS flight on years ago from Dallas Love to Little Rock, Arkansas, to Boone County, AR. Still my favorite and most memorable airline flight.

  3. A friend of mine once told me the old pilots would follow the highway and count the telephone poles to find the airport when visibility was low.

  4. Great pics, many thanks. The large cabin windows are the very best “Tourist” ones I have seen. Waiting for your next blog!

    “All Day Ray”, retired SWA flight training instructor

  5. THANKS for your photos…closest I will ever get to a Cessna 208 over H2O….lol  GREAT JOB you have created for yourself!
    Norm Wherrett

  6. And the good Lord said: “Let every passenger aircraft have windows, windows from which bloggers (whatever they might be) can take pictures, pictures they can show the “little people,” the beautiful, wondrous earth down below. And, it was done!

    (Of course, with a small shot at the EAS program, which I believe Congress is about to kill for the 1,494th time, except in districts where exceptions–234,387–apply!)

    Not a sermon, just some thoughts! Thanks, CF

  7. My first flight was on a Cessna though I don’t remember the model number. It was a charter from a coastal town to an island off the coast of Maine. I did it again on a Cessna 207 in 2013 and I was able to sit in the co pilots seat. That was awesome.

    Glad you enjoyed the experience.

    1. On the EAS flight that I took, which was on a single engine prop plane (I believe also a Cessna Grand Caravan), there were 2 pilots for an airplane that had 8 seats for passengers. Checking your bag consisted of handing it to a pilot on the tarmac so that he could stow it in the plane himself.

  8. Back in 89, I got to do an all day flying tour on a Caravan, we flew out of HNL to KOA (over Lanai and Kahoolawe which was still being bombed daily), drove around a bit, then up to OGG for lunch, flying between the volcanos and over Kiluea. Flew around Maui then on to LIH and over Waimea canyon and, on the ground we went up the river to the fern grotto. Then I got to sit in the FO seat for the flight home to HNL. As a non-rev, they charged me the outrageous price of $25..LOL. I miss those days, great pics!

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